In 1985, Paula Cooper, then 15, brutally stabbed her Sunday School teacher, Ruth Pelke, 33 times before leaving her for dead. Thirty-two years later she is once again a free woman and Ruth’s grandson can’t wait to meet her and pray with her.
Bill Pelke has spent much of his life asking God to give him, “love and compassion.” In our conversation he talks about the numerous letters he wrote Paula (one every 10 days!) while she was on death row, telling her that he forgave her for what she did to his Grandmother, Ruth. And he talks about advocating to get her off Death Row through millions of signatures on a petition and a bit of help from Pope John Paul II.
Bill’s story is one of hope for us all. Each one of us is better than the worst thing we’ve done and Paula Cooper is no exception. When our hearts are moved by love and compassion, everything changes. As Bill says,
My Grandmother would have been appalled that this girl [Paula] was on death row. I was convinced that my grandmother would have had love and compassion for this girl and this girl’s family and convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that my grandmother wanted me to have that same love and compassion. I did not have any. But I was so convinced that’s what she would have wanted that in short prayer I begged God to please please please give me love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family.
On June 17, 2013, Paula Cooper was released from prison. Her life is forever changed because of what she did as a teenager but also because of the love and compassion shown to her by Bill and from Jesus.
Here’s my interview with Bill:
To learn more about Bill’s work with Journey of Hope check out their website.
Shane Claiborne is a prominent author, speaker, activist, and founding member of the Simple Way. He is one of the compilers of Common Prayer, a new resource to unite people in prayer and action. Shane is also helping develop a network called Friends Without Borders which creates opportunities for folks to come together and work together for justice from around the world. His most recent book is Red Letter Revolution, which he co-authored with Tony Campolo.
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